BT plans trial for broadband fixed wireless bid

The 28GHz band is seen as one way of getting high-speed Internet to rural areas, and BT is taking a serious interest

BT is seriously considering bidding for a number of 28GHz broadband fixed wireless licences as a way of launching broadband services in rural areas.

A BT spokesman told ZDNet UK News that the telco was planning to launch a trial early next year, to see if it would be economically viable to use 28GHz to provide high-speed Internet access in rural areas. If this test is successful, BT is likely to bid for licences allowing it to offer commercial services at 28GHz.

Companies interested in bidding have to apply before October 2002. The government has just begun a second auction of the 28GHz spectrum. It hasn't received any bids yet, but BT's involvement could boost interest in the broadband fixed wireless auction.

"We plan to hold a trial where we deliver broadband by radio to homes in the Cardiff area," a BT spokesman said on Wednesday. "Using the 28GHz frequency could be a good way of getting broadband to areas where ADSL isn't viable," he added.

The trial will involve around 100 homes in the Cardiff area, with BT working in partnership with Radiant Networks, a Cambridge-based high-tech company. According to Wednesday's Financial Times, each building will have a small cylinder -- called a "node" -- attached to it. A network of such nodes will relay radio signals between each other, meaning fewer base stations are required. This technology is known as "mesh radio".

It's unlikely that BT will bid for a licence this year, however. "It's early days, but this is really something we're keeping a close eye on. I certainly wouldn't rule out the chance of us making a serious bid, though," the BT spokesman said.

There is concern that those living in sparsely populated regions of Britain might not get the chance to receive affordable broadband Internet access for several years. It is not economically viable for BT to make local exchanges ADSL-enabled in areas where there are few potential customers, unless Regional Development Authorities or central government can help. Cable companies, which offer broadband services, have concentrated on building their networks in areas where population density is greater, such as metropolitan areas.

The broadband fixed wireless auction began last month.

In a previous auction, only 16 of the 48 licences were successfully bid for, leaving the remaining 26 on the government's hands. By offering potential bidders a 12-month window in which they could make an offer for a licence, the government hopes to tempt telecommunication firms to at least offer the reserve price -- £1m or £2m depending on the region.

See the Broadband News Section for the latest on cable modems, ADSL, satellite and other high-speed access technologies.

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